The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom and the Roads to Agrarian Capitalism: Domar's Hypothesis Revisited
I propose a simple general equilibrium formalization of Domar's famous hypothesis on the causes of slavery or serfdom that emphasizes the interactions between factor endowments, the nature of the production technologies, and the initial distribution of property rights over land. The model provides a framework within which to understand the choice between slavery, serfdom, and free labor and tenancy equilibria with or without bonded labor-service obligations. The model also sheds light on the `Agrarian Question' regarding why some otherwise similar regions transitioned to free-labor agrarian capitalism via an `American road' dominated by independent family farms while others followed a `Junker road' with production dominated by large estates surrounded by small semi-proletarianized peasant households. The model is built around an otherwise canonical general equilibrium trade model adapted to allow for the endogenous emergence of land oligopoly and labor oligopsony power distortions that shape the pattern of agrarian production organization.
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Policy Research Working Paper Series
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